ISAIAH 44, 45, 46, 47 and 48
“I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams”. (Isaiah 44:3-4). This was spoken to a down-trodden captive nation in a pagan land, where no-one wanted to bring up children. God promised that his Spirit would change things dramatically for the better. This is a promise we should claim too.
“I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God”. God presents a challenge to any would-be usurpers, to start truly predicting the future and doing the things that He does. These idols are nothing! God mocks those who make their own gods – rather like our children would make an ‘Airfix’ model plane! You spend hours carefully assembling it out of everyday materials, using your skill and your intelligence to give it a semblance of life… and then you worship it! “Think about it!” says the Lord. “Why aren’t you also worshiping the rest of the material that is now in the recycling bin!“. Idol-worshipers are just stupid – it doesn’t make any sense at all. At least put your trust in someone greater than you!
God can use the godless to accomplish his will. Cyrus, king of Persia, was a good example of this. God chose him to first conquer Babylon and then, once in control of the Middle East empire, to resettle Judah in its own land again. The Lord calls Cyrus ‘My Shepherd’ to illustrate that point. He promises to make Cyrus great in order to bless the people of God. “For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honour, though you do not acknowledge me. I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me”. (45:4-5) God made it clear that Cyrus and his false gods would certainly not get the glory for this, but only the Lord would.
Those of us who routinely blame the Devil for all the bad things in the world, and credit God with the good stuff had better look at 45:7: “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things”. This does not mean that God is prone to acts of gratuitous evil, but it does mean that He is in charge! Nothing occurs without his say-so. He is sovereign and the Devil is only a created being, subservient to the Lord. There are many reasons why disasters occur, and we probably do not have the capacity to understand any of them! But the ‘take-away’ line is “Our God is in charge”. If you don’t like what he is doing, then it is tough. “Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker… Does the clay say to the Potter, ‘What are you making?’…” (45:9). The Apostle Paul uses these verses in Romans 9:20-21 to prove that God is sovereign in all matters, even in our salvation.
“I am the Lord, and there is no other”. This phrase is repeated many times in Isaiah and especially in this chapter. And the challenge is always the same too: “If you think that you are a valid rival, then tell us all what will happen next!”. In chapter 46, God mocks the gods of Babylon which have to be carried on the backs of donkeys. And worshiping these false gods is burden too! By contrast, the Lord says of Israel: “I have upheld you since your birth, and have carried you since you were born… even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, who will sustain you…I have made you and I will carry you…”. The true God carries his people, whom He has made; yet people have to carry their false gods whom they have made! And so, in chapter 47, the fall of Babylon is predicted; this beautiful ancient city is depicted as a virgin queen, expecting to hold on to her beauty forever. God promises to age her rapidly and to strip her naked in shame! This will be in punishment for her immorality in pursuing false gods and in treating God’s people harshly.
Finally, in chapter 48, the Lord has a rebuke for Judah itself, for being so faithless and un-trusting in him. So much time had been wasted simply because they had been stubborn and refused to believe that their God knew best. “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea. Your descendants would have been like the same, your children like its numberless grains…”. In our own lives, we often stand still or even go backwards because we have failed to put the Lord first; we do things ‘my way’ and suffer the consequences, which include wasted years, poverty, sadness, and regret. The good news is that it is not too late to return to the Lord and his ways. Just as Judah eventually returned from exile in Babylon to its own land – helped by the Lord – we can choose to end our own exile from the Lord and come back to our Heavenly Father who is waiting eagerly for this to happen. And then we will prosper and really live again!
We have reached the end of the first nine chapters of the 27 remaining in Isaiah. Notice the ‘bookmark’ at 48:22 that states: “’There is no peace’, says the Lord, ‘for the wicked’”.